Daniel J. Schultz (2020) Foucault and the Rhetoric of Exemplarity, Political Theology Published online: 30 Dec 2020
Limited open access
Political theology announces a relationship between religion and politics, but what structures this relationship and how do the related terms show up as objects of knowledge in the first place? Considerations of sovereign power – its nature and exercise – have dominated discussions of political theology, discussions often elaborated through the following lines of inquiry: is the paradox of sovereign decision, which posits the legal order through its suspension, “analogous to the miracle in theology”? Or, does revolutionary violence express a Messianic antinomianism – a pure (divine) violence that confronts and transforms the juridical order itself? These kinds of questions, when directly posed, sit awkwardly in the work of Michel Foucault, who does not have a theory of the state and who was suspicious of the tendency of revolutionary discourse to organize a representation of history modeled on the human subject. While thinkers like Giorgio Agamben have labored tirelessly to link Foucauldian concepts to Benjamin’s philosophy of history and Schmitt’s theorizations of sovereignty, it remains the case that internal to Foucault’s corpus these connections do not suggest themselves. This is curious. Why is it that Foucault’s work – so proximate to the continental philosophical archive that underwrites much of political theological discourse – should somehow provide internal resistance to these conceptual linkages? In this essay I explore one approach to answering this question, arguing that although Foucault does not have an elaborated political theology, his rhetoric of exemplarity offers a model of how one might think a relation between religion and politics.